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poetry Death Rides the Elevator in Brooklyn

Martín Espada’s newest collection, Floaters, takes its title from the term used by some Border Patrol police to describe migrants drowned in the Rio Grande.

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Death Rides the Elevator in Brooklyn

By Martín Espada

On a winter morning in 1968, my father left to walk the picket line.

He rode the elevator in his black coat, hood over his head in the hour

before daybreak. On the third floor, the doors opened. A white man

waiting for the elevator stood there, peered at my father in his black

coat and hood, in his brown skin, then screamed and fled. The doors closed.

My father laughed on the picket line that morning. He laughed for years.

The guy thought I was Death, he would say. Death rides an elevator

in Brooklyn, mugger Death, militant Death, Puerto Rican Death.

Listening to the story, as the screaming man screamed louder with every

telling, I never thought that one day my father would be the man standing

there, waiting for the elevator doors to open. He did not stare or scream

or run. He stepped into the elevator, and the doors closed behind him.

Martín Espada has published more than twenty books as a poet, editor, essayist and translator. His new book of poems is called Floaters (2021). Other collections of poems include Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (2016), The Trouble Ball (2011), and Alabanza (2003) He is the editor of What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump (2019). His honors include the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Shelley Memorial Award, an Academy of American Poets Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. A former tenant lawyer, Espada is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.